The Murder of Paul I

Portrait of Russian Emperor Paul I by Stepan Shchukin

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Today marks 210 years since the Emperor of Russia Paul I was murdered. He is probably one of the most misunderstood and maligned of the Russian tsars. His short life was truly a tragic page in Russian history.--Paul Gilbert

Paul I was the son of Catherine II, and father of Alexander I, who defeated Napoleon Bonaparte in 1812.

Paul I was born on the 10th of October, 1754, in the Palace of Empress Elizabeth in Saint Petersburg. The palace was later demolished and replaced with St. Michaelís Castle, a residence built especially for Paul I. Ironically, that was the place where Paul I was assassinated in 1801.

The son of Peter III and Catherine II, Paul lacked parental attention and love since early childhood as his father and mother cared more about political intrigues. Paulís first teacher was Fyodor Bechteev, a diplomat. He was a very strict person and ruled a boy with an iron hand. This all could not but affect Paulís impressive nature.

Paul ascended to the throne in November of 1796 after his motherís death. During the first year of his reign, Paul reversed many of his motherís harsh policies. He decreed that the throne could be inherited by elder son or an emperorís elder brother in case the previous monarch left no children. A woman could ascend to the throne only in exceptional cases. Paul I expected his decree would help avoid palace revolutions. However, this did not help to prevent a cout during which Paul himself was murdered on March 24, 1801.

He restored the collegial system of political authority and made certain attempts to stabilize the national economy. He stripped aristocracy of some of the rights they had received from Catherine II.

Paul imposed new rules in the army and dismissed many officers who failed to be as disciplined as he wanted them to be. Trying to prevent the ideas of the French Revolution from spreading in Russia, Paul I banned the import of books and did not allow young men to study abroad. Above all this, people were told when to turn off the lights at home!

Paulís foreign policy cannot be described as logical either. Shortly before his assassination, Paul announced his intention to join Napoleon in his Indian campaign. At the same time he sent 22,500 troops of the Army of Don to Central Asia so that they took control of Khiva and Bukhara. This operation was later referred to as Indian campaign, although the regular army was expected to reach India via Iran. But the operation was cancelled by Paulís son Alexander I.

Many people in Russia did not approve of Paulís policies. His reforms were especially confronted by army officials. That is why they plotted the emperorís murder. Paul I was killed in his own bedroom by a group of dismissed officers: Nikita Panin, Peter-Ludwig Pahlen, Nikolai Depreradovich, Fyodor Uvarov, Pyotr Talyzin and Leonty Benningsen.

According to one of the sources, Paul was killed by Nikita Zubov, a son-in-law of the celebrated Russian general Alexander Suvorov. Paul died after Zubov hit him on the temple with a golden snuffbox. But it is more likely that Paul was strangled to death. Some sources say that Paul recognized his son Konstantin among the assassinators and his last words were ďAnd you? Please, have mercy on me, let me breathe!Ē

Sources: The Voice of Russia
24 March, 2011